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Mike Pence breaks with Trump on Medicare and Social Security

Cuts to entitlement programs should be "on the table," the former vice president and possible White House hopeful said on CNBC.
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Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks in New York in November.Thos Robinson / Getty Images for The New York Times file

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that cuts to Medicare and Social Security should be "on the table for the long term," differentiating himself from former President Donald Trump as he considers a run for the Oval Office.

"We're looking at a debt crisis in this country over the next 25 years that's driven by entitlements, and nobody in Washington, D.C., wants to talk about it," Pence said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

The future of the major entitlement programs is quickly shaping up as a battleground for the 2024 Republican presidential primary, particularly between early front-runners: Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. That is happening against the backdrop of President Joe Biden's using his State of the Union address to criticize GOP proposals to shrink the entitlement programs, including a since-amended plan by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., that would have put them at risk of termination every five years.

Trump has long positioned himself as a defender of Medicare and Social Security, and he is doing so again as he seeks a return to the presidency. While his annual budgets included proposals to reduce Medicare spending, they primarily targeted provider payments rather than benefits. His efforts to limit Social Security spending were aimed at cutting disability benefits, not checks for retirees.

"Under no circumstances will we allow anyone to cut Medicare or Social Security for our nation's seniors," Trump said Monday in a speech to Club 47, a nonprofit group supporting his re-election, in West Palm Beach, Florida. "We're not going to allow that. They paid in, and you can't allow it, and you shouldn't allow it."

Trump hopes to draw a sharp contrast with DeSantis, whom he singled out in a Truth Social post this week: "Ron DeSanctimonious wants to cut your Social Security and Medicare," he wrote.

DeSantis is widely expected to run for president, but he has not yet entered the race.

As a member of Congress, DeSantis voted for a series of nonbinding budget proposals developed by GOP leadership and the conservative Republican Study Committee that would have reshaped Medicare by changing it to a premium-support system and raising the eligibility age for beneficiaries. The budgets DeSantis backed would have made more modest changes to Social Security.

Pence, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, declined Wednesday to detail how he would alter the major entitlement programs, but he said changes must be made — even as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has said he will not use a coming fight over raising the debt ceiling to try to force cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

"We all know where the real issue is in terms of long-term debt for the United States, and that is that, while I respect the speaker's commitment to take Social Security and Medicare off the table for the debt-ceiling negotiations, we've got to put them on the table for the long term," Pence said.

It's clear that they will very much be on the table in the battle for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.